It is the right time now to make the pristine, scenic and mighty Mekong river a strategic piece in the Indo-Pacific puzzle. This is of immense importance to India. But, what does India have to lose, in a river that is hundreds of miles away from the nearest border outpost? A lot. In fact, we’ve lost a lot already. Time, effort, money and more importantly — lives.
The Mekong river has its origins in Tibet. Waters pass through five other nations (Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam). The terrain it passes through ranges from the cold plateau of Tibet to dense jungles to fertile agricultural lands of the Mekong delta. While playing a crucial role in environment and economy, and therefore making a direct and indirect impact on lives of, at the very least, 6-7 crore people.
Where does China come in? China plans to use the Mekong river as a trade route for the now infamous signature initiative of President Xi Jinping: Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese companies started blasting sections of the river called Pi Long rapids to ‘make it fit’ for cargo ships to transit to and from China through the river.
Being part of the Indo-Pacific, India has a significant stake in this region. India’s extended neighbourhood. In 2000, India and five other partner nations (Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam) agreed to form Mekong Ganga Cooperation. This is nothing but India’s outreach towards East Asia. The “Look East Policy” as the Government of India calls it. Under this, a lot of development projects were to be partnered. Including Trans-Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway projects. These connectivity projects are far away from debt trap models and are done on partnership basis — free and transparent. No hidden games as that of the Belt & Road Initiative. Also, this started much before the Chinese move.
It might be slow, but steady. We built only on a “need” basis. No forceful imposing of cosmetic/showcase projects at exorbitant amounts on smaller neighbours. While there is a significant progress in the connectivity projects, there is much to catch up to make a deeper economic impact. Many of these small and poor countries are under tighter Chinese influence — economically and strategically. For China, what seemed fine until 2014, suddenly got off rails.
One who has influence over the Mekong river has the sphere of influence over a major chunk of Indo-Pacific theater landmass. The strategic importance is no less than Panama Canal or Suez Canal.
When it comes to the Mekong river, two key players are involved. Myanmar — the first nation downstream after the Mekong river enters from Yunnan province of China. Vietnam, which has the Mekong delta region — the last point before the river flows into the historic Champa Sea — which is part of the Indian cultural sphere, though independent nations. In fact, Mekong holds the unique distinction of flowing through six nations today, which were entirely under Indian cultural sphere of influence. Including Yunnan.
Why Myanmar? Myanmar lies between Andaman Sea/ Bay of Bengal and China’s Yunnan province. The shortest land route for cargo and oil from the Gulf is via Sittwe-Muse-Kunming. This circumvents the Malacca Straits and Champa Sea issues.
The strategic depth at which China operates to keep a hold on the nations is mind-boggling and elaborate. On Myanmar, while India itself is helping with cultural, security and political capital. On monetary capital, India has roped in Japan for investments to counter Chinese investments and offer an alternative. The SinoJapanese rivalry in Myanmar projects is quite well documented.
Just after the Myanmar visit of November 2014, the ball started rolling faster. After that visit by Myanmar’s State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to Delhi and two-day log meeting with PM Modi, a lot of perception and alignments between two neighbours seem to have changed.
A vision was spelled out by Suu Kyi in her joint press statement during her 2016 Delhi visit. Subsequently, the political and military relations marched forward. In November 2019, two key events happened. First, Myanmar came under heavy criticism and extreme pressure over the Rohingya issue. Myanmar was taken to the International Criminal Court by Gambia. Not Saudi Arabia or Bangladesh or Indonesia. But Gambia. Ironically, this is just after a year of Gambia receiving financial assistance from PRC in return for breaking ties with Taiwan.
Second event. Five people were kidnapped by the Arakan Army. They were there relating to an India-funded construction project in restive Rakhine province. One Indian national (construction worker) died while in AA’s custody. Four others who were also abducted were released safely. While ICC order came in January 2020.
Investigations that followed on a wider issue of Chinese funding and arming insurgents. China was caught red handed by Myanmar. China did sabotage India funded projects in Myanmar. Especially, Trans-Asian Highway/Railway link related projects. And more specifically, the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Project which is key to connecting India’s Northeastern provinces. Not just that. China did mischief against those who were opposing citing environmental and financial issues that exist in China funded China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) projects in Myanmar.
For those who don’t know, Arakan Army is fully funded & armed by China’s PLA directly. As per media reports, the Ministry of State Security (MSS) supports AA too. On the other hand, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) is funded by China indirectly through Pakistan’s ISI, per news reports. AA committed some grave human rights violations on Rohingyas. Just like their adversary ARSA did on Hindus and Buddhists. China funds both. ARSA got assistance from Pakistan is a different story. Overall, China supports a lot of terrorist groups in this region. PLA & MSS even funds insurgent groups in India’s North East — which operate training camps in Myanmar’s jungles. Indian Army and Myanmar’s Tatmadaw did a joint strike on these terror camps many times in the past few years. Some of India’s most-wanted terrorists are tracked to Yunnan Province of China.
By creating an image of Myanmar as a politically unstable State that is also infested with internal trouble, China made Myanmar look unattractive for foreign investments. Thus, keeping Myanmar under its claws of debt trap. This is a double-edged sword. Fact is, China has waged a political, economic and even a sub-conventional proxy war against Myanmar for showing slightest signs of aligning with India — for all peaceful purposes. Myanmar, by now, has understood the game and moved on completely away from Chinese influence. The little influence that we see is also bound to vanish in times to come. The recent meeting between Myanmar’s military chief and Indian Defence Minister was the final nail in the coffin. India upped its game in Myanmar and there will be no looking back.
Mekong protection is key to sustaining the food basket of South East Asia. Be it freshwater fishing, agriculture or poultry. The bigger problem here is that the fear of this damage being irreversible. Making it impossible for future rejuvenation of this natural habitat of precious flora & fauna.
Development always needs to be sustainable. More importantly, with little to no damage to habitat/ecosystem. Here, we are talking of destroying an entire natural habitat in the middle of a rainforest, for unadulterated greed.
Few months ago, water levels reached a historic low of 1.5 metres. Then, the worst drought in a century this year. Then, there have been reports of this being the reason for saltwater intrusion in the Mekong Delta region. Vietnam’s food basket. This is nothing short of an environmental emergency that Vietnam was battling along with Pandemic. Currently, due to heavy rains in China, the water levels have risen. And the basin is flooded. This is majorly due to irresponsible/unscientific restricting of the flow of Mekong river water. The issue is well documented in local media. This is the level of environmental impact. Though Vietnam took diplomatic steps to raise this issue with China, it is of little help. Vi e t n a m’s e c o n o m i c growth trajectory over the past few years has been upwards and quite robust. They’ve pulled out a large chunk of their people out of poverty. The Mekong delta region of the country has played a crucial role in this. This region is key to the country’s food security in future too. Such projects might have a deep economic & social impact on the people too.
Cambodia, Lao PDR & Thailand
Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand face political and sovereignty issues that are caused due to environmental impact on its people. The issues are very similar to what Vietnam faces. A wave of protests over China’s irresponsible Mekong river projects. Some violent attacks on Chinese workers too. Per one report of Reuters, “Chinese engineers on the Mekong said they were worried that Thai protesters would board the rickety cargo ship where they slept, prompting them to moor it on the Laotian side of the Mekong each night.” Over the past few years, “Mekong River is Not for Sale” has become more than a slogan for the locals. This started rumblings at political & geo-political level as Nations were scrambling themselves while unable to speak out against a mighty China. Vietnam is not alone. Story is similar in Thailand and Lao PDR too. The protests had a political bearing on Lao PDR & Thai Governments at various levels. Sovereignty issue.
China’s overambitious problem
As it is oft-repeated on any issue where China is party to, chances are that the issue most likely originated in China. This one, has its roots in China after PRC setting itself an ambition to control the region’s waters. It might sound like an allegation, but this is their act elsewhere too. More precisely, this is one of the reasons for PRC’s invasion of Tibet. For example: Mekong River Commission was formed — officially in 1995. The Commission has 4 members out of 6 States through which the river flows, as members. The other two exclusions being Myanmar and Tibet/ China.
In 2012, a rival organization was proposed by someone as big as China’s Premier Li Keqiang. The Lancang – Mekong Cooperation. Now that we know the clout China had those days, it must have had little difficulty in getting all 5 States into this organisation. Who’d have thought of meeting eye to eye with China those days. Leave alone these small nations saying a “No” for an answer. Especially, when this new LMC was spearheaded by no less than China’s Premier. Within a few years, development — China-style — started reaching those areas.
If you haven’t noticed, China copied even the name of Mekong Ganga Cooperation — as PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee suggested in 2000. As Premier Li Keqiang suggested in 2012, it is Lancang-Mekong Cooperation. Humility puts one’s interests behind. Hence, India put Ganga after Mekong. Culture matters.
Only money, no care for the environment, sovereignty or livelihood was given. Problems started.
Course of action
If China’s clout must be curtailed in the region, China’s access to the region’s shores must be restricted. Be it Bay of Bengal or Champa Sea. The only other option is through the Mekong basin. It is here that World’s democracies should partner with these small nations that are hit by China’s wolf-warrior diplomacy. Help them create their own wealth using the Mekong river and keep them independent from China.
The way China has tricked these small nations it’s unlikely that they would ever trust China’s intentions ever again. China too knows this. Hence, China used “mischief” as strategy. Beat Myanmar down and tame Vietnam. Unfortunately for China, both strategies have failed. With Indo-Pacific region heating up, it won’t be wrong to see many democratic political changes which would help the Mekong river flow peacefully. With Vietnam and Myanmar out of China’s sphere of influence, this could happen faster than expected.
India can pace up the initiatives of Mekong-Ganga Cooperation — where it was last left and speed up the progress First, people to people contact should be made simple and affordable. Second, ease of doing business should be the key driving factor. If the Mekong delta flourishes, India’s Northeast flourishes too. Lastly, the Mekong Ganga Cooperation project, had a dream to run a passenger train from Delhi/Kolkata to Hanoi. Hopefully, we see it in our lifetime.
A good regional cooperation is the need of the hour. Like ASEAN, there should be an Indo-Pacific grouping which could voice collective concerns regarding China’s unsustainable ideas. This is more than enough for wealth creation and people movement. This should be done at the earliest before we lose habitat for good. If we don’t stop this, I am fully sure nature would reclaim itself.
Shreedharan Raman watches strategic moves by countries around the globe, especially China.
The Daily Guardian is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@thedailyguardian) and stay updated with the latest headlines.
For the latest news Download The Daily Guardian App.
THE SENTINELS OF THE DEEP
At this juncture, the nation has significantly achieved Aatmanirbharata in building sophisticated warships including submarines, with state-of-the-art weaponry and guided missiles.
4 December was Navy Day and 8 December was the anniversary of the submarine arm of the Indian Navy. In the maritime security environment, presently in the Indian Ocean Region and what is being termed as the Indo-Pacific, the Submarines and eventually nuclear Submarines will play a pivotal role both as a factor of deterrence and defence of the Indian coastline, maritime interests and the Indian Nation. This is with specific regard to, the ominous building of strong economic and defence relations between China and Pakistan.
A close-up view of Foxtrot class submarine.
Foxtrot class submarine.
The world’s attention is now finding a clear definition or strategy, in terms of containing the out-worldly expansionist and fast-growing influence, rather threat, to the Democratic Nations from China, beyond India’s land borders in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
The second edition of the Naval Commanders’ Conference of 2021 was held on 18 October 2021 in New Delhi. Addressing the Naval Commanders during the inaugural session, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stated that as a responsible maritime stakeholder India supports consensus-based principles and a peaceful, open, rule-based and stable world order and envision the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) with the universal values of rule-based freedom of navigation and free trade in which the interests of all participating countries are protected. He added, “It is a matter of great pride to know that out of 41 ships and submarines ordered by our Navy, 39 are from Indian shipyards. This is a testament to the Navy’s commitment to ‘Aatma Nirbhar Bharat’.”
China has already delivered in November, its largest and most advanced warship to Pakistan as it seeks to strengthen the navy of its all-weather ally in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. This is where it has increased its own naval presence in recent years.
On the Indian scene, the focus is on the very recent acquisition and commissioning of INS Vela, the fourth of Kalveri class, of the six Submarines of the ‘P75I Project’ being built at the Mazagon Docks in Mumbai, with French collaboration of their Scorpene Submarines.
A few days ago, the new Naval Chief Admiral Radhakrishnan Hari Kumar stepped into office, with an onerous task of carrying forward, the pending case for six nuclear-powered attack submarines, along with a third aircraft carrier, to neutralise the acidic collusion of China-Pakistan in the Indian Ocean region. This will be an effort to create a formidable maritime theatre command, to come up at Karwar in Karnataka, as part of an integrated defence capability. In this endeavour, the Navy is looking at a scenario of jumping from 130 to170 warships with an additional facility of Drones and from 130 to 320 aircraft, in the next five years.
INS Vela was commissioned by the recently retired Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh at the naval dockyard in Mumbai on 25 November. This is the second addition, in recent weeks, to the Indian Navy’s fleet of warships after INS Vishakhapatnam, the first of the Vishakhapatnam class, a stealth guided-missile Destroyer equipped with the deadly BrahMos surface-to-surface missile, which was commissioned a few days earlier by Rajnath Singh.
“The commissioning of ‘Visakhapatnam’ will reaffirm India’s presence amongst an elite group of nations with capability to design and build advanced warships,” the Vice Admiral Satish Namdeo Ghormade said on the occasion. In a veiled dig at China, Rajnath Singh had remarked, “some irresponsible nations” for the sake of their narrow partisan interests and hegemonic tendencies were advocating inappropriate interpretations of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
The Indian Navy celebrated Navy Day on 4 December, in the Golden Jubilee year, which marks 50 years of the famous naval victory in 1971. In honour, the Western Command of the Indian Navy exhibited the country’s largest flag, 225 feet by 150 feet, at Mumbai’s Dockyard overlooking the Gateway of India. The Navy should feel proud to have initiated indigenous warship building capability.
The P75I project, conceptualised for the acquisition of 25 submarines in collaboration with DCNS of France, at the time of former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral’s Government, evolved into a 30-year plan for building submarines in India. This is a project that was delayed for questions over the reluctance of the French Government to act on the commitment for “transfer of technology” that apparently was an integral part of the contract. The first of the six subs, INS Kalvari, was commissioned five years behind schedule, in 2017. After Kalvari, two more submarines under the contract, INS Khanderi and INS Karanj, were commissioned. Vela is the fourth, and sea trials are ongoing for Vagir, while the sixth, Vagsheer, is under construction.
Vela which can take up to eight officers and 35 men, is named after a decommissioned submarine Vela, which served the Navy from 1973 to 2010. The earlier Vela belonged to Foxtrot class submarines of the erstwhile Soviet origin.
Vela is a diesel-electric powered attack submarine, designed to act as “sea denial” as well as “access denial” warfare to the adversary.
The submarine can engage in offensive operations across the entire spectrum of naval warfare, including anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, intelligence gathering, mine laying, and area surveillance.
Indian Naval experts are exploring a strategy where, while the Army would hold the Chinese forces at the Himalayan borders, the Navy can go on the offensive in the Indian ocean. This could be the first of a tri-service strategy to oppose China, from—blocking an Asian Competitor. The thinking is based on the fact that the overwhelming presence of the US 7th Fleet coupled with Australian nuclear submarines in the near future, in and around the south China Seas, the Chinese nation will not be able to defend its sea lanes in the Indian ocean. With an airbase in the Car-Nicobar Islands, the Straights of Malacca can then be turned into an Indian dominated battlespace.
The Indian Naval presence in the Indo-Pacific becomes important beyond a perceptible surface force by itself, or as part of aligned forces, enhanced by the stealth and deterrent presence of submarines. Moreover, the Chinese regional diplomacy has leveraged its infrastructure projects in conjunction with the flexing of its military muscle.
India has growing strategic interest due to its strong economic and political relations with Southeast Asian countries along with concerns about the safety of the sea lanes. Besides participating in the ASEAN-led organisations, it is also an active partner in the Quadrilateral Dialogue (US, India, Japan, and Australia) in pursuit of its larger Indo-Pacific vision. As part of its multilateral diplomacy, significant to note that India carried out a six-day long ‘sailing’ in the South China Sea in 2019 with the US, Japan, and the Philippines. India remains sensitive to the concerns of ASEAN and the littoral states.
From Modern submarines, the thought goes back to the first lot of submarines of Foxtrot class better known as Kalvari-class, well established in the year 1982, which was the 15th Anniversary of the Indian Submarine arm.
At that time, a request had come to Doordarshan from the Naval Headquarters through the PRO of Navy, C. Uday Bhaskar, presently Director, Society for Policy Studies and a writer-commentator on Defence and Strategic Affairs, then PRO Indian Navy, to make a documentary on the Indian Submarines, for their Navy Day.
The pressure of the Asiad 82 was an overriding factor and most of the Producers of the Delhi Kendra, which was partially the headquarters of Doordarshan at that point in time, were wholly preoccupied with the scenario of the game. The mantle fell on the News department. Once the team was put together, it was advantageous for both the Navy and Doordarshan to pull out the latest arsenal in its technical facilities, the freshly acquired ENG (Electronic News Gathering) JVC (Japan Victor Company) Low Band U-Matic colour cameras. (I had got special training in electronic news gathering and satellite exchange, the previous year at the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcast Development AIBD at Kuala Lumpur).
This was a systemic change from the long-established 16mm cameras where the reversal or negative film used was black and white since the Network of Doordarshan had not yet changed to colour. Perforce, judging the complex nature of the project, I needed to make a reconnaissance trip to the Naval base in Vishakhapatnam.
In Vizag, I was introduced to Capt. Bhim Uppal in his office, in-charge of the Submarines at Virbahu the base of the Submarine arm. INS Virbahu was commissioned as the shore support base for submarines in May 1971 and with this, the 8th Submarine Squadron of Vela class submarines was based here. The Commanding Officer INS Virbahu was also designated as the Captain submarines 8th Submarine Squadron. Thereafter, with the induction of the Sindhughosh class submarines, the 11th Submarine Squadron was created. As two Submarine Squadrons were based at Visakhapatnam, comprising eight submarines, the scope of responsibility of the Commanding Officer, INS Virbahu, increased manyfold. Initially, all training, maintenance, operational and logistic matters pertaining to submarines were dealt with by Virbahu and it continues to be regarded as the ‘Home of the Dolphins’ even today.
Capt. Uppal and I discussed at length, the operations of the submarines and I made detailed notes of men, material and drew up a rough shooting script which could be packed into 30 to 50 minutes of a documentary script. These details were later discussed with my camera person Sudhir Tandon who was then heading the camera unit, along with Lieutenant Commander Bhaskar, to assimilate the entire gamut of what constitutes the day-to-day schedule of Officers and sailors, rather than submariners.
I took the opportunity of going inside one of the two subs berthed at special locations at Dolphins Bay at the naval dockyard. I tried to calculate the time required as we moved from one part of the boat to the other, in the limited area movement inside the submarine. It was an awe-inspiring experience, initially claustrophobic, as soon as one entered through the conning tower and was cautioned frequently to mind my head. One really wondered what a tough task it would be to man these boats. It was one thing to watch the movie ‘The Russians are coming’ and another, to be actually inside a submarine made by them.
In 1982, electronic colour portable cameras had come to India. This was the low band U-Matic technology using a one-inch videotape that had an inherent audio track. The magnetic tape was rolled into a slick cassette some 8 inches long. Such cassettes were an extension of the audio cassettes already flourishing in the market. The time length of each cassette was 20 minutes and one had to plan the number of cassettes that had to be taken out for a documentary, especially when one goes out of town and to a distant place for an ENG shooting.
Lieutenant Commander Bhaskar says, “The documentary film made by Doordarshan Delhi in late 1982 for the 15th anniversary of the Indian Navy’s submarine arm was a significant public awareness punctuation for the Indian audio-visual media in relation to the ‘silent service.’ I was a Lt. Cdr at the time and relatively new to the whole PR domain but when this was film mooted by the Navy—Admiral Dawson the Naval Chief was very supportive. Within the MoD, then DPR. I Ramamohan Rao was a pillar of support and helped me with the complex procedures of obtaining approval—with little fiscal support! The Navy’s aviators did the submariners proud by providing a Dornier aircraft to ferry the TV team led by Rajiv Kumar…and that was quite a journey. In Vizag, HQ of the submarine arm—Capt. Bhim Uppal—the CO of INS Virbahu was very helpful—and without his attention to detail—many professional aspects may have been missed. The FOC-in-Chief, Eastern Naval Command, VADM M.K. Roy was also very forthcoming despite the novelty of the project and not quite knowing what the final product would be. But in retrospect—clearly, Doordarshan Delhi came up trumps.”
Remembering the beginning of the project, Tandon remarked, “When we reached Delhi’s Palam Airport Technical Area, I was astonished to find a small executive aircraft of the Indian Navy that was to carry a four-member crew of Doordarshan to Visakhapatnam or Vizag. In my childhood, I took a joy ride on a small Piper plane. Since then, it had always been a big aircraft that one had flown in. So, the thrill of that joy ride that had rushed in me was slightly dampened by the news that it was going to be a long journey to Vizag, with a couple of hours’ halt at Nagpur for the refuelling of the executive plane which was unpressurised and flew at a height of 10,000ft and had no toilet or catering facilities and we took off in the darkness of nightfall, having loaded all our equipment just a few feet behind our seats.”
Those flying were expert naval pilots. Once settled in Vishakhapatnam the entire area of the Naval dockyard was agog with the news of a Doordarshan team out to shoot inside the high-security area. We were lodge at a mess some distance away. Admiral Roy had ensured that we got the facility of two Chetak Navy helicopters to take us on a guided tour of the dockyard and get us to have a feel of the close coordination required for the shoot at the high sea, not far from the coastline, for filming the submarines submerge, as well as resurface. This was the real tricky part. We had one great advantage, a facility available as part of the new technology. The eye lens which was like a small square TV picture tube, allowed us to immediately view the shot. All we had to do was to rewind the camera recorder and play it instantly, but the viewfinders output was only in black and white. Since on the day of this sequence, which was at the end of the schedule, both Sudhir and I were sitting behind the pilots in the Chetak helicopters, we could instantly gauge whether we were satisfied with the shot or not. This had also been practised during the entire shoot, as those young Officers who were attached with us, including some Seniors and Lieutenant Commander Bhaskar, were able to preview the footage when we used to get back from the shoot. In the order of the shoot, we first cleared all the port requirements like the morning Assembly of the Officers and the sailors on the surface, in front of the submarine, followed by all other areas of land operations.
The excitement amongst the Officers and the sailors, when we moved from one place to the other, give us a heightened feeling of being some kind of celebrity. We had a white Maruti Gypsy permanently with us.
In our five days stay, one evening other than the last one was arranged as a special event evening for the Officers and their families, who were equally keen to be a part of the shoot. We were surprised to see a folding screen in the forefront greens of Virbahu, the base of the Submarine arm with dozens of men and women, obviously, the naval families, assembled in neatly laid out chairs, for a show. We thought that’s besides meeting us as a team from Doordarshan, these assembled guests were about to watch some movie. Little did we know and to our utter surprise, it turned out to be a presentation of our shooting tapes, the actual coverage. Instantly Sudhir and I wondered, whether the smart engineers amongst the Naval families, had got our equipment and managed to take a video-out line, to screen it from a projector. Well, it was not so, but we learnt later, with an apology from the right source, that young Officers of the Navy had actually hijacked our tapes and tried to convert them onto a VHS for playback for the Naval community, who were indeed very desirous of seeing the men in the White in their official avatar.
The shooting tapes are indeed a precious ‘lot’ of our baggage which has to be religiously guarded with ‘extra care’ for one, we may not accidentally reuse them thus erasing the shot footage and otherwise, as, without these tapes, we are a lost entity. But we were in a highly secure area. We were told later, that a desperate attempt was made to enable the Naval Officers and families, to see the actual dockyard work atmosphere and boats at sea, first time and in colour. The services of the NPOL the Naval Physiological Oceanography Laboratory were taken for this extraordinary feat at that time. It gave us a great feeling, something we had come to capture on camera, the sense of dedication of Armed Forces who are always there to protect our borders/coastline.
Recalling the moments, Tandon remarked, “The most enthralling part of this documentary was that the filming was done, perhaps, for the first time from air, land, sea (aboard a ship) and underwater. Even though I’d shot cross-country cycling events from an IAF helicopter for the Asiad, filming the Submarine rising and ducking in the blue waters, like a whale, from aboard a Navy chopper was a rousing experience. This exhilaration turned into a moment of shock and fright when the submarine that we were filming in, suddenly dived into the sea. The view from the submarine’s periscope took me back to my physics class at school where we had constructed our own periscope.”
The few days spent at Vishakhapatnam were indeed rewarding in terms of a rich experience and thrilling footage from one of the very first ENG colour cameras which was the beginning of the real Electronic Media in the country.
Once underwater, inside the submarine during the shooting schedule, we were given the opportunity to ‘shoot’ the men in their actual positions and react to commands in real-time. The Commander of the submarine offered a toast to the Doordarshan crew. Sitting close to each other in his cabin, as space is a big factor, when we picked our glasses for the toast, the sip of the contents bewildered us. It was no wine or champagne, but seawater from the depth of the submarine’s dive. This is the custom for new entrants to the submarine service, as a welcome to the family. We were at a depth of 200 feet.
Eventually, the documentary turned out to be titled ‘Sentinels of the Deep’. The submarines still remain so, more powerful, lethal, and guardians of the Nations maritime interests, accentuated now with the challenges put forth by our adversaries China and Pakistan and the requirements to keep the sea lanes free in the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean Region and the Indo-Pacific.
The writer is former Chief Producer, News & Current Affairs, Doordarshan. He is a Fulbright Scholar, Syracuse University, Upstate New York.
FROM DELHI TO VISAKHAPATNAM VIA KOLKATA AND MUMBAI
Tomorrow, Sunday 21 Nov, the Indian Navy will commission its latest Guided Missile Stealth Destroyer (DDG) INS Visakhapatnam in the Naval Dockyard at Mumbai with the Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh as the Chief Guest. Apart from the novelty of naming a ship after a leading port city of India, of which a little later, Visakhapatnam, with its advanced, state of the art suite of weapons and sensors represents a formidable combat unit comparable to the best of DDGs globally. It also represents a landmark moment in the Indian Navy’s relentless quest for indigenization and self-reliance in warship building.
INS Visakhapatnam at sea.
INS Delhi and INS Mysore, the first avatars.
INS Delhi commissioning on 15 November 1997.
INS Visakhapatnam crest.
INS Visakhapatnam mascot Blackbuck, the state animal of Andhra Pradesh.
INS Delhi top view.
The ship is the first of the Project 15B series of four destroyers – named Visakhapatnam, Mormugao, Imphal and Surat that the Navy intends to commission in the following years. These follow the Project 15A or the Kolkata class ships – Kolkata, Kochi, Chennai which joined the Fleet in the last decade and which, in turn, were a follow on the Project 15 (Delhi class) ships – Delhi, Mysore and Mumbai that were commissioned between 1997 and 2001. All the destroyers have been built or, will be, in Mumbai city, at the Mazagon Dock, which over the years has become the premier warship building yard of the country.
A warship is amongst the most complex things constructed and, therefore, warship building is the holy grail of infrastructure technology. Like missile, space and nuclear technologies, warship building is the preserve of few nations among whom India is one. While the aircraft carrier is the queen of the maritime theatre, destroyers are powerful surface combatants with multi-dimensional capabilities. Equipped with an array of weapons and sensors they can be effective in all domain warfare – surface, anti-air, anti-submarine and electronic. Typically, in the range of 5000 to 10000 tons displacement, they also possess long endurance so as to operate singly or in small task forces or as part of the Fleet. In short, the destroyer is an extremely versatile platform capable of essaying the full spectrum of naval roles – warfighting, constabulary, diplomacy and benign – and is, therefore, a very important piece in the maritime chessboard. To put it somewhat simplistically, Cruisers or Light Cruisers performed this role after World War 2 but, over a period of time, destroyers have come to become the most formidable assets in any navy’s Order of Battle (ORBAT).
Immediately after independence, Indian Navy began a process of expansion. Guided by visionary founding fathers, a force of ‘less than half dozen sloops’ embarked on the journey of building a powerful Navy, as the principal guardian of India’s maritime interests, in the post-colonial era. Embedded in this vision were two key principles – the first, to enhance Fleet strength by rapid induction of platforms from abroad as necessary for its enhanced mandate of more than ‘coastal defence’ as was prescribed in the colonial times and, the second, a sound commitment to indigenization by transitioning, at the earliest, from a buyer’s navy to a builder’s navy. In other words, despite the complexities of warship building, the advanced technologies required and lack of adequate industrial capacity in the country at that time, the Navy was determined to build locally, by acting as a catalyst for creation of such capacities as required. This desire attained even more urgency as naval budget, in the initial years after independence, remained tight owing to commitments for the other two services in view of continental threats and wars.
Indian Navy’s indigenization or ‘atmanirbharta’ journey can be summarized as one of several phases with each succeeding one being a big leap over the previous phase. The first phase began in 1960 with the commissioning of a small Seaward Defence Boat, INS Ajay and culminated with the building of INS Darshak, a survey ship. The second was when we constructed weapon platforms with the six Nilgiri class frigates from late 60s to early 80s. These ships were built to the British Leander design, albeit with some improvements with every new ship. So much so, that the last two ships were described as ‘stretched Leanders’ owing to their ability to take the bigger Seaking helicopter as against the Chetak helicopter that the earlier ones embarked. The ‘Nilgiri’ class also had the first surface to air missiles, the rudimentary ‘Seacat’ system and an advanced Action Information Organization (AIO) in the operations room. The next phase was the construction of the three Godavari class guided missile frigates in the eighties, when a completely Indian design came into play. Using the best of both Western and Soviet philosophies that we had been exposed to and amalgamating that with equipment from several other nations we created a unique Indian design. Equipped with surface to surface and surface to air missiles apart from guns and torpedoes, the Godavari class was characterized by sophisticated sensors and an integrated AIO system, as well as a helicopter deck that could carry two Sea King helicopters. The latter with their own considerable organic capabilities were referred to as ‘flying frigates’ and heralded force multiplier effect into the fleet. While the Navy had always had an in-house design organization since inception, which had further expanded with the Nilgiri project, the Godavari class ships were built as designed by the naval design bureau and this was a paradigm shift in our indigenization journey.
Arguably though, the next phase was the biggest leap. While the Godavari class frigates were impressive, they were ‘works in progress’ which found culmination in the Delhi class destroyers. The Delhi class, called Project 15, was our ambitious design to create state of the art ships that could be workhorses like destroyers and also provide command and control facilities of a cruiser. The three ships inducted between 1997 and 2002 had sleek looks, imposing silhouette, armament and equipment that were a huge jump from those existing in our inventory and were great advertisement for our ship building prowess. It was the Delhi class design that segued, with considerable improvements, into the Kolkata class or the Project 15A destroyers of the last decade and now seamlessly transition, with further enhancements, to the Visakhapatnam class of the Project 15B.
It is important to emphasize that this is not the only thread of our indigenization story. Other lines such as the Khukri class missile corvettes, the Shivalik class stealth missile frigates, the Kamorta class ASW corvettes, Patrol Vessels, Amphibious ships, Tankers, Missile Boats, Seaward Defence Boats, Survey vessels and training ships have embellished the catalogue of our designers and builders and each of these ships are in service or have served the country with distinction. Submarines and aircraft carrier building adds a whole new dimension, deserving a separate article. However, to the extent that a genre tells a story, one may argue that ‘Delhi to Visakhapatnam’ journey is a continuum and is a phase of accelerated ‘atmanirbharta’. It’s also a journey made exciting by the names of the ships and their linkages with key events in the country.
Naming of ships is an interesting separate essay in itself. Much thought goes into the endeavour and it is not the intention to dwell on that here. But some history may be useful to join the dots. India’s first Flag ship, acquired from Britain, in Jun 1948, was named INS Delhi. INS Mysore, also from Britain, followed a decade later. Both were erstwhile Royal Navy cruisers which had earned their spurs in World War 2 as HMS Achilles and HMS Nigeria respectively. Delhi and Mysore, capital ships named after capital cities, provided our fledgling Navy, much combat capability while also acting as nurseries for the growth of our leadership. It is no wonder they (along with INS Vikrant, our first aircraft carrier) were regarded as iconic ships embodying the growth of the Indian Navy in the first few decades after independence and our gradual transformation into a big navy.
Thus, the reincarnation of the Delhi class in 1997, now in an indigenous avatar, was welcomed by all and seen as a wonderful omen. There were three ships in this class and third was named Mumbai not only to represent a capital city but also celebrate the long lineage of ships that had been named Bombay/Mumbai and built in colonial times. Delhi, Mysore and Mumbai induced awe, nostalgia and reverence. Along with the aircraft carrier Viraat, these played the role of flagships and command and control platforms with aplomb and gave our navy a much greater reach and capability than hitherto. It was, thus, natural to name the follow-on destroyers after other capital or big cities – Kolkata, Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Mormugao, Imphal and Surat. Except for Imphal all other names are port cities that blend antiquity with modernity and are a perfect fit for navy ships which combine tradition and technology. Imphal, on the other hand, is a salute to the North Eastern part of India and recognition of that region’s contribution to national security and its cosmopolitan ethos. It is the first Indian warship named after a city in the North East which is a landlocked region. In doing so, the Navy is also suggesting that no region in the country is ever removed from the sea, especially in the interconnected globalized era.
This nautical tradition of naming a man-of-war after a city has created umbilical links between the city and the ships. It has vitalized the relationship between the residents of a city and the seafarers serving onboard its ‘namesake’. Hence, let us return to Visakhapatnam, the protagonist of this story.
Often referred to as the ‘City of Destiny’, Visakhapatnam’s history dates to the 3rdcentury BCE, when it was part of the Kalinga kingdom and was involved in extensive international maritime trade. Varying tides of fate saw its control transferring from the regional rulers to Mughals, and then to Europeans, until India’s Independence in 1947. For the British, Visakhapatnam served as the perfect natural harbour to transport mineral wealth from central India to Madras and Calcutta Presidencies. The harbour was opened to trafficin 1933.
Visakhapatnam (also called Vizag, Visakh, Waltair) and the Indian Navy have had an enduring relationship. Realizing the strategic importance of its location in the Bay of Bengal, the British established a small naval station in 1939 as an assembly point for their convoys. HMIS Circars was commissioned subsequently as an operational and refitting base, with few small warships being positioned and the establishment of an ordnance depot and Boat Repair Shop. Visakhapatnam assumed great significance with WW II spilling over into South East Asia. It was a major supply and transit point of the Allied powers for the Burma front.
Post-independence developments saw further expansion and the setting up of a base repair organization in the fifties. The city became the Headquarters of a full-fledged Eastern Naval Command (ENC) in March 1968. 1971 was an eventful year, with the Indo-Pak conflict, in which the ENC played a pivotal role as the key headquarters of war orchestrating actions at sea and ashore to dominate the Bay of Bengal and engineer a decisive victory. The locals too had their share of war experience with the sinking of the submarine PNS Ghazi, occurring just off Visakhapatnam harbour on the night of 03 Dec 71. Over the last fifty years, the ENC has grown rapidly in size and stature. It has become the nerve-centre for orchestrating India’s naval influence in the Eastern and Southern Indian Ocean Region. The city’s strategic location provides the Navy with a vantage position from which it overlooks the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The myriad and potent naval assets at Visakhapatnam enable presence in India’s maritime areas of interest, besides projecting the Indian Navy as the Preferred Security Partner in the region. The city boasts of a distinctive maritime character. Its striking skyline features the Dolphin Hill Lighthouse, Visakhapatnam Port Trust, Kursura submarine museum, TU-142 and Sea Harrier aircraft museum, and the 1971 Victory at Sea Memorial, all of which stand testimony to its rich maritime legacy. For Vizagites, the enduring presence of the Navy has been a source of assurance, besides being an extension of their nautical traditions and aspirations.
Visakhapatnam, the ship, 164 meters long and displacing 7500 tons, is one of the largest surface combatants to be built in India. She is a versatile unit capable of Blue Water operations across the spectrum of warfare. Her sophisticated weapon-sensor suite, coupled with network-centric capabilities makes her a potent Command platform that can bring to bear substantial offensive capability. Armed with advanced Surface-to-Surface supersonic cruise missiles, she can undertake surface strikes at extended ranges. Her Medium Range Surface-to-Air Missiles, along with active phased array radar, represent a generational leap in the Navy’s Anti-Air Warfare capability. In addition, the 76 mm Medium Range gun and four each AK 630 and Close-Range guns provide effective Surface and Anti-Air capabilities at closer ranges. The ship has an equally potent Anti-Submarine weapon fit comprising latest heavy weight torpedoes and rockets.
Her air surveillance and surface search radars, bow-mounted and towed array sonars, electronic and COMINT systems provide a continuous multi-dimensional surveillance bubble around the ship. The ship’s survivability in combat is assured by multipledecoy systems. Most importantly, the Combat Management System integrates the ship’s diverse weapons and sensors with other ships, thereby providing seamless Maritime Domain Awareness, reduced sensor-to-shooter cycle, and cooperative engagement capability. Above all, the ship is capable of operating two multi-role helicopters which extends her surveillance and offensive capabilities, besides enabling Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. The main machinery features four powerful reversible Gas Turbines of 20000 HP each, propelling her at speeds in excess of 30 Knots. Likewise, a captive power generation capacity of 4.6 MW, along with sophisticated power distribution architecture, efficiently meets the energy requirements of the ship. An Integrated Platform Management System enables single point remote operation and control of all machinery including damage control and ventilation equipment.
The commissioning of Visakhapatnam tells many stories. First, the quantum leap in technology and capability that has propelled her into a league of new generation warships. Second, the predominantly indigenous weapon-sensor-machinery fit and stealth features symbolize the maturing of India’s indigenous shipbuilding capability and quest for self-reliance. In a milestone development, there are 39 ships or submarines being built in India over the next few years. Above all, it is a significant marker of the Indian Navy’s journey. If the first Delhi was inducted soon after independence and the second Delhi in the 50th year of the event, on 15 Nov 1997, Visakhapatnam is being commissioned, as we step into the platinum jubilee of independence.
Discerning readers may then ask where does Mumbai fit? Apart from having a destroyer by that name, Mumbai figures as the city where all these ships have been built and where, thus far, they have been home ported. Thus, one may conclude that the quarter century from Delhi (second) to Visakhapatnam via Kolkata and Mumbai has been one of accelerated ‘AtmaNirbharta’. Let us raise a toast to our planners, designers, builders, overseers and ship’s crew on this momentous occasion. Wishing Team Visakhapatnam attains glory in its tryst with maritime destiny.
Cmde Srikant Kesnur is associated with the Naval History Project. Views expressed here are personal.
A GOLDEN DAWN FOR THE SUNRISE FLEET
Indian Navy’s sword arm on the Eastern seaboard, the Eastern Fleet, was born on 01 Nov 1971 as war seemed imminent and clouds of conflict hovered over the subcontinent. The Fleet played a decisive role in the maritime domain holding sway in the Bay of Bengal and strangulating then East Pakistan from the sea, thus contributing to the denouement of the surrender in Dacca on 16 Dec and the capture of more than 90,000 prisoners of war. Having had its baptism by fire and come out glorious through it, the Eastern Fleet, also called the ‘Sunrise Fleet’, has grown by leaps and bounds over the years to become a formidable combatant force. Today, as it celebrates its golden jubilee, here is a look at its journey through some salient points.
Visakhapatnam, on India’s East Coast, has a commanding view of the waters of the Bay of Bengal. It came into prominence during World War II (WW) when the British set up a small naval base in December 1939. Expanding gradually after Independence, she became the Navy’s Eastern Naval Command (ENC) Headquarters in March 1968. Naval planners at Delhi had envisaged a two Fleet Navy, on either seaboard, right from independence. However, financial and other constraints delayed that vision becoming reality. Hence, the Eastern Fleet finally came into being on November 01, 1971. At its inception, considering the strategic scenario, the Eastern Fleet was a ‘make shift’ assembly of few ships, namely – the aircraft carrier Vikrant, anti-aircraft frigates Brahmaputra and Beas, Petya class anti-submarine ships Kamorta and Kavaratti, a WW II destroyer Rajput, amphibious ships Magar, Gharial and Guldar, and a requisitioned tanker Desh Deep. It was this small force that was to bring glory to the navy and nation in the days to come.
Soon after the pre-emptive action by Pakistan in the West on 03 Dec, the Fleet received orders to carry out air attacks on Cox’s Bazaar and Chittagong the very next day. Because of what followed over the next fortnight, Bangladesh was born. Vikrant proved to be the centre piece of all operations and enabled the Eastern Fleet to dominate the Bay of Bengal and seal off escape routes of Pakistani forces, contributing in large measure to the overall success in the Eastern theatre. Consequent to relentless air and surface operations by the Fleet, the entire coastline of East Pakistan (Bangladesh) came under its control by December 12, 1971. The Fleet had destroyed enemy bases and strangulated its logistics lines with successful contraband control. Fleet ships had also captured many ships fleeing with Pakistan soldiers and their families; thereby, any escape of enemy was successfully prevented. In addition, on cessation of hostilities and creation of Bangladesh, the Eastern Fleet played a role in helping Chittagong and its harbour regain normalcy.
Having proved its mettle in the 1971 war, the Eastern Fleet started consolidating and reviewing its force structuring through the 70s and 80s. The Petya class (which had expanded to 10 ships by mid 70s) and the amphibious ships formed the nucleus of the Eastern Fleet for a long time. The mid 80s saw the transfer of the indigenously built Giri class frigates from the Western Fleet to the Eastern Fleet. This bolstered her Anti-Submarine Warfare capabilities and provided much needed punch. These frigates were invaluable in all operations for the larger part of the 80s and 90s. And the Eastern Fleet saw a fair amount of operations in these two decades
Newspaper coverage of Kittu (second in leadership of LTTE supremo Prabhakaran) being apprehended.
Operation ‘Brasstacks’, a major tri-service exercise from January to March 1987 along our Western land borders and seaboard, saw large scale mobilization where units of the Fleet were deployed across the coast sustaining themselves at extended ranges for prolonged durations. A bigger challenge was to come few months later. The Eastern Fleet spearheaded Operation ‘Pawan’, to support the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) deployed in Sri Lanka between July 1987 and March 1990. Pawan came to become India’s longest Peace Support Operation (PSO). Indian ships provided operational and logistic support to Army and Naval forces deployed there and maintained continuous patrols in the Palk Strait and along Sri Lanka’s eastern seaboard. The Fleet was involved in the induction, turn around and the de-induction of thousands of troops and in delivering large consignments of vehicles, munitions, fuel and stores. (See table). Operation ‘Pawan’ was followed by another prolonged constabulary mission Operation ‘Tasha’ in which Fleet unitscontinuously patrolled the International Maritime Boundary Line in the Palk Bay to curb smuggling of arms, poaching, illegal immigration and other activities.
The early 90s saw decreasing availability of the Petyaclass ships due to obsolescence. To address this, the Indian Navy rebased the Rajputclass destroyers, the Khukri class corvettes and the INS Trishul (retrofitted with missiles) to Visakhapatnam in the 90s. Renewed force levels helped the Fleet become the flag bearer for India’s ‘Look East’, initiated in the early 90s. The policy marked a strategic shift in India’s perspective of the world and evolved from diplomatic engagement with Southeast Asia to broader security and defence ties across the whole of Asia-Pacific. Subsequently, we have deepened links with Australia, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and littorals from South East Asia. The Fleet has to its credit many firsts – bilateral naval cooperation between the Indian and Singaporean Navies in 1994, Indo-Thai exercise in May 95, visit to Chinese ports in Aug-Sep 95 after a long hiatus, visit to Brunei and Cambodia in Oct-Nov 96.
However, the expanding diplomatic role did not impact the tempo of operations. Anti-gun running and smuggling operations including Operation ‘Hyacinth’, ‘Hibiscus’ and ‘Poorab’ were undertaken. Operation ‘Zabardast’led to the apprehension of the LTTE ship MV Ahat. During this operation, Sathashivam Krishna Kumar alias Kittu, a close confidante of the LTTE leader Prabhakaran was killed along with nine other LTTE cadre. In June 1999, during the Kargil conflict, frontline units of Eastern Fleet teamed up with the Western Fleet, as part of Operation ‘Vijay’. The objective of strengthening force levels on the Western seaboard and deterring the adversary from further misadventure was successful.
The 2000s saw the Government of India deploying ships of the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet on eastbound long range deployments to strengthen military ties with the countries of this strategically important region. For the Fleet, it provided an opportunity to further enhance its operational capabilities, reach and sustenance. ‘Look East’ had transformed to ‘Act East’. The Fleet deployed and, continues to deploy ships, regularly, to Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Thailand, USA, and Vietnam amongst others.
As a part of the Indo-US military co-operation for Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’, the Indian Navy launched Operation Sagittarius. This operation saw Eastern Fleet ships escorting US Navy High Value Units (HVU) through the Malacca Strait. More than 24 HVUs were safely escorted by the Indian Navy. During Operation Parakram in 2002-03, units of the Fleet were placed on high alert and deployed to the Western coast to strengthen deterrence. The Fleet units were poised for both blockade of sea routes and engagement as ordered. Further, in pursuance of our philosophy of assisting maritime neighbours, on request from Mozambique, Eastern Fleet ship Savitri, along with other Indian Navy units, was deployed off Maputo in Mozambique in May-Jul 2004 for providing coastal security during the World Economic Summit and Afro-Pacific-Caribbean (APC) heads of state summit in Maputo.
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami was one of the biggest natural calamities faced by the region. Within 12 hours, the Indian Navy deployed 27 ships, 19 helicopters, six aircraft and over 5000 personnel for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) to the affected areas, both within and outside India. The Eastern Fleet was at the forefront of the relief efforts on India’s Eastern Seaboard as also our maritime neighbours. The Indian Navy teams oversaw supplies of food and drinking water; shelter and medical assistance; ensured sanitation and hygiene; restored water and power supply, and provided rescue facilities, to meet further contingencies like spread of epidemics. Eastern Fleet units Rajput, Ranjit, Ranvijay, Khukri, Khanjar, Kirch, Magar, Gharial, Ghorpad, Sharabh, Sukanya and Jyoti were involved in these operations. The Tsunami response reinforced Indian Navy’s reputation as a credible maritime force with substantial reach and enhanced India’s standing as a trustworthy regional power, capable of providing help to friendly nations. Similarly, when an earthquake hit Yogyakarta, in Indonesia, in May 2006 and devastated the place, INS Rajput, deployed in the Malacca Strait was immediately diverted for the relief mission, Operation ‘Marham’, during which the ship carried relief stores and medical aid to the affected areas, and provided health and sanitation assistance. Rajput’s rapid response was widely appreciated by the local media, population and the Indonesian Navy.
The President’s Colour represents the spirit and tradition of a fighting unit and bear testimony to its many deeds of heroism and valour. In recognition of its contribution towards national security, this was awarded to the Eastern Fleet on February 13, 2006. The Colour presentation accompanied the first ever Presidential Fleet Review in Visakhapatnam in which the Fleet played an important role in planning and execution of the event.
Regular force reviews and strategic assessments led to a substantial increase in the Eastern Fleet assets. By early 2007 the Fleet had five Rajput class destroyers, eight Khukri and Kora class missile corvettes, two Sukanya class patrol vessels, four amphibious ships, the tanker, Jyoti and organic helicopters. Four missile corvettes of the 1241 RE class also joined the Fleet in 2008. The Landing Platform Dock Jalashwa (Ex USS Trenton) joined the Eastern Fleet in 2007, paving the way for standoff beaching and transport of over 1000 troops onboard. The commissioning of other larger class of amphibious ships further added to this capability. Incidentally, the Eastern Fleet is the home to a major component of the Indian Navy’s amphibious lift capabilities. The Fleet, with increasing assets, has over time expanded its operational and humanitarian footprint. Operation Blossom was carried out in Feb-Mar 2011 wherein Jalashwa was tasked to evacuate Indian citizens from war torn Libya. Similarly, Sukanya played a key role in providing water (Operation neer) to Male when the Male Water and Sewerage Company in December 2014, suffered damage. Some other illustrative (but not exhaustive) instances of HADR operations include INS Sumitra to Bangladesh on Jun 2017, after Cyclone Mora, INS Airavat in Jan 2020 to Madagascar after Cyclone Diane (Op Vanilla) and as escort for World Food Programme ships to south Somalia in Jun 2020.
The past decade has seen further capability enhancement of the Eastern Fleet with commissioning and induction of three indigenous Shivalik class frigates, four indigenous Kamorta class corvettes and two indigenous Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels firmly reinforcing the Indian Navy’s enduring belief in Atmanirbhar Bharat. The addition of fleet tanker Shakti further enhanced the Eastern Fleet’s reach and sustenance abilities.
The current era is about multilateralism and enhancing inter-operability. The Eastern Fleet has been at the forefront of this approach. Ships of the Eastern Fleet regularly exercise with the US Navy (Malabar), Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JIMEX), Republic of Singapore Navy (SIMBEX), Russian Navy (INDRA), Sri Lankan Navy (SLINEX), Royal Australian Navy (AUSINDEX) as also with navies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand.
One of the most significant events on the diplomatic front for the Eastern Fleet was the pivotal role played by it in the International Fleet Review hosted by the Indian Navy in Visakhapatnam in February 2016. This was particularly significant on account of the fact that Visakhapatnam had been struck by a devastating cyclone, ‘Hudhud’, in October 2014. Infrastructure was severely affected, large numbers of trees were uprooted, electricity cables damaged, supply disrupted, roads and access lanes blocked. Severe shortage of essential items was experienced throughout the city. The Fleet was in the forefront providing manpower, equipment, water, food, medicines and repair tools to residents of Visakhapatnam and in clearing the airport of debris to make the runway functional. It provided technical teams to assist in restoration of essential supplies, road clearance and to provide accessibility. About 500 personnel from ships were deployed for over a week to restore normalcy. Thus, when the IFR 2016 was conducted, there was an outpouring of gratitude by Visakhapatnam and its citizens towards the Navy and the Eastern Fleet for their yeoman service.
The year gone by, 2020, has seen the Eastern Fleet deployed across the Indian Ocean, South China Sea and beyond, both for humanitarian operations and enhanced operational posture. Covid-19 saw many Indians stuck in countries in the region and beyond. Eastern Fleet units, as part of OperationSamudra Setu helped in repatriation of 3992 Indian citizens. Concurrently, Eastern Fleet units also delivered critical food and medical supplies as part of Mission Sagar to Madagascar, Comoros, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia. When 20 Indian soldiers were killed in action on the icy heights of Galwan by Chinese troops, the Eastern Fleet was operationally poised to prevent any misadventure in India’s areas of maritime interest. In Operation Samudra Setu II, this year, ships of the Fleet have been proactively deployed for shipment of Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) and other medical equipment to meet the challenges of second wave of Covid.
Today, the Eastern Fleet is a multi-faceted composite force of about 30 units with the capability to defend our national maritime interests along the Eastern seaboard and beyond. It can reach out to all areas of interest, sustain for significant durations and engage with maritime neighbours to strengthen regional security. The likely addition of the indigenous Aircraft Carrier, Vikrant, by 2022 augurs well for the Eastern Fleet. The combat capability, reach and versatility of the carrier would offer an incomparable military instrument with its ability to project air power over long distances. This will provide a major operational fillip to the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet. There is also the happy historical connect of the first INS Vikrant’s role as Flagship of the Eastern Fleet in 1971 war.
Just a month after its birth, the Fleet had cut its teeth in operations in the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Over the years, the Fleet has grown and matured not only in terms of assets but also operational reach, sustenance and effectiveness. The Fleet undertakes a large gamut of tasks in this region – maintaining forward presence and carrying out maritime surveillance, keeping India’s Sea Lines of Communication free, fostering cooperation with Eastern maritime neighbours through bilateral/multilateral exercises, monitoring the area for gun running, narcotic trade, poaching and combating low intensity maritime threats such as piracy, terrorism and hijacking. As she turns 50, the Eastern Fleet takes pole position as the vanguard of a resurgent maritime India. It certainly is a golden dawn for the Sunrise Fleet.
Cmde Srikant Kesnur is associated with the Naval History Project and Cdr Utkarsh Sharma is serving with the Eastern Fleet. Views are personal.
‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’
The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.
Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.
On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”
He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”
SOUTHERN NAVAL COMMAND OBSERVES INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEAN-UP DAY IN KOCHI
The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.
Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.
Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.
Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.
Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.
During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.
To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.
Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.
With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.
IAF TO HOLD AIR SHOW OVER DAL LAKE IN SRINAGAR ON 26 SEPT
An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.
The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.
The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.
More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.
During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.
Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the
IAF, he said.
Opinion1 year ago
South Block’s mistakes will now be corrected by Army
Sports2 years ago
When a bodybuilder breaks Shoaib’s record
News2 years ago
PM Modi must take governance back from babus
Spiritually Speaking1 year ago
Spiritual beings having a human experience
News2 years ago
Chinese general ordered attack on Indian troops: US intel report
Legally Speaking2 years ago
Law relating to grant, rejection and cancellation of bail
Sports2 years ago
West Indies avoid follow-on, England increase lead to 219
Royally Speaking1 year ago
The young royal dedicated to the heritage of Jaipur